DP graduate James McCann gets back into swing of things with Chicago White Sox
James McCann was celebrating his first-time selection for baseball’s Midsummer Classic on this date last year.
This summer, however, is just getting started for the Major League All-Star catcher from Dos Pueblos High School.
“I guess you could say that I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get this done,” said McCann, who is resuming workouts this week with the Chicago White Sox.
McCann reported today with the team’s pitchers and catchers. The rest of the White Sox will begin workouts at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday.
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of the MLB season to either July 23 or 24 and shortened the schedule to just 60 games.
“It’s not going to be what you drew up four months ago when we first reported to camp,” McCann said. “Usually you preach that it’s a marathon and that you can’t let one game, one outing, get you down. But it’s not a marathon anymore.
“It’s a sprint. It’s a little bit more of, ‘Hey, you got to get out of the gate fast and you can’t let up.’ ”
McCann, who turned 30 on June 13, is in the prime of his career. He’s coming off the best of his five full seasons in the big leagues, batting .273 with 18 home runs and 60 runs batted in. He made his All-Star debut on July 9 in Cleveland, lining a single off Brandon Woodruff to trigger a two-run seventh inning in the American League’s 4-3 victory.
The White Sox rewarded him during the offseason with a contract of $5.4 million — but it’s just for one year.
“There’s really no good time in a career to lose a year,” McCann said. “For me, personally, I’m excited to get back out there and continue to show what I can do, especially heading into free agency in this next offseason.”
He left Arizona when spring training was halted on March 11. He’s spent the last 15 weeks hunkering down at his home in Franklin, Tenn. — just south of Nashville — with wife Jessica and twin sons Christian and Kane, age 2½.
“We’ve all been good, leaving the house only for essential stuff,” McCann said. “We’ve been pretty well quarantined up until now.
“If there is a silver lining in all this, it’s that I’ve been able to be home with family. It’s going to be a transition for all of us now with my being gone.”
Home actually was a good place to stay in shape. Former Chicago Cubs star Ben Zobrist, the most valuable player of the 2016 World Series, lives just down the road.
“He’s got a barn at his place with a batting cage and pitching machine,” McCann said. “I was able to go there and hit and do my catching routine off the machine.
“And when things opened up here about a month ago, several of us started getting together to play simulated games at a high school field. This is actually a hotbed for professional athletes. I’ve had a ton of people to train with.”
McCann’s “Team Tennessee” included a pair of fellow All-Stars in pitchers Lance Lynn of the Texas Rangers and Brad Brach of the New York Mets.
Jakob Matz, an 11-game winner for the New York Mets last year, is also in the group, as are relievers Rex Brothers and Van Winkler of the Chicago Cubs.
Taking swings with McCann against that rotation were Philadelphia infielder Logan Forsythe and Pittsburgh catcher Jacob Stallings.
“Jacob and I would switch off catching when the other one hit,” McCann said. “It’s a good group of guys. You could create a pretty good team just from the players living here around Nashville.”
He’s earned enough credibility in big-league circles to earn selection as a players’ representative. Negotiating this summer’s return to the field, however, has been an eye-opening and often disappointing experience.
“I never thought the economics would be the thing that kept us from playing,” he said. “I always thought the coronavirus would be the biggest opponent to our playing, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“I understand that there are going to be issues. There’s a long history of that between the owners and the players, and that struggle isn’t going away anytime soon.
“I just wish that at the forefront of what the public got to see was that the enemy we were all fighting was the virus — COVID-19 — and not the economics of our industry.”
McCann, a 2008 graduate of Dos Pueblos High, remains in close touch with his parents, Jim and Carla, who still live in Goleta.
“We FaceTime Mom once a day, if not every other day,” he said. “She called the other day when the boys were running around and said something like, ‘Just calling to see how you’re doing,’ but I knew better.
“I told her, ‘You’re calling to see what the grandboys are doing.’ ”
McCann isn’t sure when or if his family will be able to join him in Chicago. Illinois, which is in phase 4 of its five-stage process of reopening, is allowing fan attendance up to 20% of capacity at sporting events. Chicago, however, hasn’t yet weighed in on the matter.
The White Sox actually played a game with no spectators in Baltimore in 2015 after rioting had broken out near Camden Yards following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
“I’ve talked to several players who played in that game and they said it was really eerie,” McCann said. “They said you could hear conversations coming from the other dugout and echoes throughout the stadium.
“The one thing I kept hearing consistently was that you don’t get the same type of adrenalin that you’re used to. The adrenalin you get from the fans helps make your body feel better when you’re dragging a bit. Not having that would be a real adjustment for guys.”
Especially when your position is a grueling one such as catcher.
McCann, however, will take baseball any way he can get it these days. He’s also taking nothing for granted during this three-week warmup to the season.
“All I know is that the virus is not going away anytime soon,” he said. “That’s why I say I’m just cautiously optimistic that we’re going to have a successful season.”